Mickelson, Els celebrate long road to 100th major

By Ryan LavnerAugust 8, 2017, 9:58 pm

CHARLOTTE, N.C. – They walked into the media tent at the PGA Championship, past the commemorative yellow cake, but Phil Mickelson and Ernie Els might as well have stepped into a time machine Tuesday at Quail Hollow.

Pointing to a monitor, a PGA of America media official wasted little time in transporting Mickelson and Els back to 1984. The Junior Worlds in San Diego was the first time they’d ever met; the first time, in fact, that Els, who grew up just outside Johannesburg, South Africa, had ever been in the U.S.

Playing in the 14-year-old division, Els nipped Mickelson by three shots, and so there he stood, beaming and holding a trophy the size of his torso, his blonde hair glistening in the California sun.

“Do you see how grumpy Phil looks there?” Els said, chuckling.

It was quite an introduction on the world stage, and 33 years later, Mickelson can still recall, in vivid detail, the moment that he knew this tall kid named Ernest was going to be a force. Third hole, par 5, 20 yards short of the green, and Els hit a skipping, spinning pitch that checked a foot from the cup.

“I hadn’t seen anybody else at 14 hit that shot,” Mickelson said.

They’ve been dazzling each other ever since, compiling Hall of Fame careers despite crushing near-misses in majors, family challenges and the domineering presence of Tiger Woods.

Whether they wanted to relive all of that two days before the start of this PGA Championship, who knows, but on Tuesday they officially became the 13th and 14th members of golf’s 100 Major Club. “It’s amazing that we’ve played together and against each other for so many years,” Mickelson said. “It doesn’t seem that long ago from those days, but it sure looks like a long time ago.”

Mickelson made his major debut a year after Els, at the 1990 U.S. Open at Medinah. Competing as an amateur that week, Mickelson moved into contention on Sunday, just a few shots off the lead, but made a few late bogeys down the stretch and finished in a tie for 29th. Little did he know that was the start of three decades of U.S. Open torture.

Fortunately for Els, he didn’t endure much major heartbreak early in his career, and especially not in the U.S. Open. He won in 1994 in just his eighth major start, and then took the 1997 title, too. As Els replayed his heroics down the stretch – the pure iron shots, the knee-knocking putts – Mickelson stared blankly into the monitor.

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“I got the monkey off my back early on,” Els said.

For Mickelson, it took 47 tries to break through in a major, but that moment on the 18th green at Augusta was so significant that a silhouette of his victorious “leap” now serves as his personal logo. The player he beat that day in 2004? Of course it was Els, who was crushed, after thinking his Sunday 67 would be enough for his first green jacket. Eventually, Mickelson overtook Els in the major category, 5-4, but only after what he calls his “career-defining achievement” – The Open at Muirfield in 2013.

Surely, players of their immense talents would mop up against any other generation, but both competed in the middle of the Tiger Era. Woods’ dominance was so oppressive that it stunted the careers of every other player, but no one was affected more than Mickelson and Els.

Mickelson has long claimed that Woods did more for his career than any other player, because Woods pushed him to work harder, to begin a training regimen that increased his flexibility and, in turn, contributed to his longevity.

“I don’t think I would have had the same level of success had he not come around,” Mickelson said.

Els, though, can’t help but wonder. By the time Woods took the golf world by storm at the 1997 Masters, Els was already a major champion, and he would add to that tally two months later, at Congressional.

“I was ready to win quite a few, if you know what I mean,” Els said, “and him winning the Masters in the way he did, that threw me off a little bit. I thought I was really one of the top players, which I was, but that was a pretty special display of golf.”

And Els saw it over and over again – at Pebble Beach and St. Andrews and Kapalua. Els’ five runners-up to Woods in Tour events were the most of any of his opponents.

“I could have had a couple more, definitely, without him around,” Els said.

Is the Big Easy’s window closed? Now 47, like Mickelson, Els’ body has begun to break down and he has only five top-10s since 2013. He says he’s still hungry, and that he’s in the process of rebuilding his game, and that he’s rededicating himself, but that’s easier said than done.

Encouraging results are scarce and off-course interests consume more of his time. Last month, Els was named one of the four finalists for the Sports Humanitarian of the Year for his efforts to help children with autism, like his son, Ben.

“That’s the legacy that I see when I think of Ernie Els,” Mickelson said.

As for Mickelson, his priorities are changing, too. He says his family life has never been better, after health scares in 2010, but earlier this year he skipped the U.S. Open to attend his daughter’s commencement speech, and he parted ways with longtime caddie Jim “Bones” Mackay.

Despite a few close calls over the past four years, Lefty hasn’t won since July 2013 – indeed, Woods has hoisted a trophy more recently – and conceded that his obstacles now are more mental than physical.

“Once that clicks in and I settle down and focus like I did, I think I’ll play at a level that I’ve played before,” he said. “I don’t feel that golf mortality. I feel excited about this challenge.”

Mickelson didn’t even realize this was his 100th major until he saw one of his sponsor’s websites last week. He did some quick math – 25 years, four majors a year, yep, that adds up – and shrugged. Jack Nicklaus’ record of 164 majors is safe.

“It just goes by so fast,” Mickelson said. “You don’t even think about it.”

He played along with PGA officials on Tuesday, going down memory lane, posing for photos, poking fun at Els’ cake-cutting technique. But during the half-hour obligation, it became abundantly clear that Mickelson and Els weren’t ready to look back, not yet. Not with so much still to play for.

Their victory laps can wait.

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Hataoka leads Minjee Lee by one at LPGA Volvik

By Associated PressMay 26, 2018, 12:54 am

ANN ARBOR, Mich. - After losing in a playoff last weekend, Nasa Hataoka is making another bid for her first LPGA Tour victory.

Hataoka shot a 4-under 68 on Friday, and the Japanese teenager led by one stroke over Minjee Lee after the second round of the Volvik Championship. Hataoka, who is coming off the first two top-10 finishes of her LPGA career, made seven birdies at Travis Pointe Country Club. She began her round on No. 10, and her best stretch came toward the end, when she birdied Nos. 4, 5 and 6.

''I'm really comfortable playing the LPGA,'' the 19-year-old Hataoka said through a translator. ''I've really got confidence now.''

Hataoka made the cut nine times in 17 starts as a rookie in 2017, and she has made significant strides of late. She tied for seventh at last month's MEDIHEAL Championship and nearly won a week ago at the Kingsmill Championship in Virginia.

Hataoka finished the second round in Michigan at 9 under. Lee (69) was also solid Friday. Gaby Lopez (68), Jodi Ewart Shadoff (70) and Lindy Duncan (70) were a stroke behind Lee in a tie for third.

Hataoka did not make a single bogey in last week's three-round tournament, and she didn't have any in the first round in Michigan. She finally made a few Friday, but that didn't stop her from taking sole possession of the lead.

''I kind of feel like not really perfect, but I just kind of try to (be) aggressive,'' she said.

Full-field scores from the LPGA Volvik Championship

Lee, who lost by one stroke on this course last year, is in contention again.

''I guess the fairways are pretty generous and I think the greens are a little bit on the trickier side to read,'' Lee said. ''As long as your iron shots are pretty solid, I think you're going to be in good position around this golf course.''

Lee birdied the first two holes, and the only blemish on her scorecard Friday came on the par-5 14th. After missing the fairway to the right, she hit an aggressive shot out of the rough that went straight toward a water hazard well in front of the green. She settled for a bogey after taking a drop.

''I thought the ball was sitting OK in the rough, but it must have been a bit funny, or underneath it,'' she said. ''I made a mistake. I thought it was good enough to hit 3-wood there.''

Lee lost last year in Michigan to Shanshan Feng, but Feng will have some ground to make up in her attempt to repeat. She shot 69 on Friday but is still eight strokes behind the leader.

Ariya Jutanugarn was 6 under after a second consecutive 69.

Lopez made only six pars in the second round, tied for the fewest of the day, but her eight birdies and four bogeys put her near the top of the leaderboard.

''It was a little bit of an up and down,'' she said. ''There's so many opportunities out here to make birdie, that the most important thing to do is just to be patient, to be in the moment and not to get ahead of yourself. I think I came back from a couple mistakes that I did.''

In contrast to Lopez, Brittany Lincicome parred all 18 holes Friday and made the cut at 1 under. Paula Creamer (71) triple bogeyed the par-4 13th. She followed that with an eagle on the very next hole but missed the cut by a stroke.

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Childhood rivals share Sr. PGA lead

By Associated PressMay 26, 2018, 12:00 am

BENTON HARBOR, Mich. - Kevin Sutherland and Scott McCarron have been rivals since their junior golf days around Sacramento, California. The two old friends were back at it Friday at the top of the Senior PGA Championship leaderboard.

''It's honestly, nothing new for us,'' said Sutherland who played in the third-to-last group and birdied his last two holes for a 5-under 66 to match McCarron at 8 under.

McCarron had a 68 in the morning wave to emerge from a championship record group of six tied for the first-round lead.

Sutherland was last year's Charles Schwab Cup winner with his only senior win coming in the season-ending Charles Schwab Cup Championship, while McCarron has six PGA Tour Champions wins, including a major at the 2017 Senior Players Championship.

''We are both (Northern California) guys, played in high school, junior golf, on tour and it seems like a lot on the Champions Tour,'' Sutherland said. ''We were in the last group on Sundays a lot last year. Scott played so well and had an incredible year, and I had a great year, too.''

Sutherland's lone PGA Tour victory came at McCarron's expense in 2002 at La Costa in the Accenture Match Play Championship, when he beat McCarron 1 up in the 36-hole final. As youngsters they played on opposing high school teams located about an hour apart and met often in state tournaments as well as on the California junior circuit.

''It's been happening for 30 years, wait 35 years now, I guess,'' Sutherland said. ''Playing together on a Saturday is a little different. We're both still trying to get in position to win.''

Jerry Kelly shot a 65 to join Tim Petrovic (69), Chris Williams (68) and Joe Durant (67) at 7 under. Durant tied for second last week in the Regions Tradition, also a major championship.

Full-field scores from the KitchenAid Senior PGA Championship

McCarron feels like he is just starting to warm to the task this year. He had to replace his clubs, including a favored putter damaged beyond repair in air transit two months ago.

''I've been putting with a back-up putter I had, but it just didn't feel quite right,'' he said. ''I changed last Sunday at the Regions Tradition and started putting better on Sunday. So I'm using this one again this week and seem to be putting pretty good with it.''

McCarron said the Harbor Shores course played a little tougher in light winds in the second round. He made six birdies and three bogeys.

''I would just like to have a couple of those bogeys back,'' he said. ''But we're in a good position going into the weekend.''

McCarron came to the press center after his round and walked in on a press conference where course-designer Jack and Barbara Nicklaus were being honored by sponsoring KitchenAid with the establishment of a local college scholarship program in their name.

McCarron, who said he has idolized Nicklaus since his youth, played media and asked Nicklaus what he ate when he was near the lead going into the weekend of a major championship.

Nicklaus said if you play well one day, eat the same thing the next day.

''But no hamburgers, or you will play like hamburger,'' he said.

Stuart Smith, the Reno, Neveda, club pro who was tied for the lead after the first round, missed the 36-hole cut with a second-round 83.

''I'll take the 66, 83 and enjoy the 66 yesterday,'' he said. ''You put this one down to just plain old golf. It's a nasty game we play sometimes. Glad I have a day job.''

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Wise, Simpson both miss cut at Colonial

By Nick MentaMay 25, 2018, 11:34 pm

The two most recent winners on the PGA Tour, Aaron Wise and Webb Simpson, missed the cut at the Fort Worth Invitational on Friday.

Wise and Simpson both came up short of the 2-over total by a shot following rounds of 70-73.

Wise was safely inside the number before playing his last four holes in 4 over par with two bogeys and a closing double following a trip into the water at the par-4 ninth.

Full-field scores from the Fort Worth Invitational

Fort Worth Invitational: Articles, photos and videos

Simpson, making his first start following his Players triumph, similarly struggled coming home, bogeying three of his final six holes.

Other notables who won't be around for the weekend at Colonial include Xander Schauffele (+4), Jason Dufner (+5), Patrick Cantlay (+6), Smylie Kaufman (+13), and Sam Burns (+13).

This is Kaufman's 11th consecutive MC and his 15th in his last 16 starts.

Jason Seaman and Kristi Hubly Seaman

Sr. PGA caddie learns of nephew's heroism in school shooting

By Tim RosaforteMay 25, 2018, 10:33 pm

Tracy Hubly caddied for her husband, club pro Chris Starkjohann, on Friday at the KitchenAid Senior PGA and learned after their round that her nephew was credited with helping stop the school shooting at Noblesville West Middle School in Indiana.

Jason Seaman, a 29-year-old science instructor and seventh grade football coach at the school, took three bullets but survived as what his aunt called a hero.

“You hear the stories about these shootings and I think about Parkland and the officer that was trained but didn’t go into the school,” Hubly said. “It’s really shocking to think it comes close to your family, but it does."

It’s not unusual for Hubly to caddie for her husband, a teacher at Carlsbad Golf Center and coach of a PGA Junior League program in Southern California. Hubly, who works in the pro shop at Emerald Island Golf Course in Oceanside, Calif., was on the bag when he was low golf professional at the 2009 Senior PGA Championship held at Canterbury GC. 

Starkjohann, 61, missed the cut at Harbor Shores with rounds of 76-79—155 and was heading to the Colorado State Open.

 “I didn’t hear about it until after my round was done,” Starkjohann said. “Everything happened after I got in.”